We walk up to the mist nets, the morning air is cool and the grass is wet. The water starts to seep into my socks. As we get closer, something makes the net quiver. The group arrives and I see my first bird up close. It is a small song sparrow, its feet grabbing ahold on the fine netting. Our supervisor pulls the net around the legs and frees the bird from the net, careful not to hurt the sparrow, and careful not to let it go.
When a bird is flying overhead or when we see a photograph of a bird close up, we all
can recognize that it is a bird. I bet you would never think that someone can catch such a
small, fast, flying animal. What the Roger Tory Peterson Institute is doing is setting up large mist nets, catching any bird that flies into it, and banding them. They do this to track migration habits of birds, and the dispersal of the species.
Birds are most active in the early morning, so the catching takes place from sunrise until noon to maximize the number of birds caught. The first thing we do is put up the mist nets. They are very fine nets that do not hurt the birds, they only catch the birds who get tangled up in them. The birds grab onto the net so their feet and body are tangled up. A trained professional with experience will carefully take the birds out of the net and put them in soft, white cloth bags that is calming for the birds and ease their stress.
A house wren holding onto the mist net, Becky Rew
Processing the Bird:
After we catch the birds, we have to process them. This means observing the sex, weight, size, and age of the birds. To determine the sex of a species, the appearance differs from male to female. The coloring of the feathers on a gold finch, for example, is more golden yellow on male birds than female birds, who are more grey and brown. We can also look at their breast and abdomen to see if they have a brooding patch, which is a bald area on females to keep eggs warm, since feathers insulate the mother’s heat. We measure the wing size and the tail feathers in millimeters. To determine the age of the birds, we look at their feathers. The wearing of them, the sizes of them, and if they have younger feathers. We also look at features like molting and fat content. We put a band around a leg of the bird. It is loose enough to not hinder movement, but snug enough to not fall off of the bird.
There are two main ways to hold birds, the banders hold, and the photographers hold. When measuring and observing the bird, the photographers hold is used. When putting
the metal band around the leg of the bird, general holding of the specimen, or releasing the bird, the banders hold is used. The photographers hold is also used in most photographs to clearly see the body and head.
The Photographer’s Hold
Why Do We Band Birds:
The Roger Tory Peterson Institute, along with its Project Wild America Program is catching and banding birds to track population and migration. We band birds in Jamestown, and then if we capture them again at another time, we know they stay here. If another bird bander catches the same bird in another state, or even country, we know they are moving or migrating. This ultimately helps the birds and helps the people who study them by furthering our understanding of how a certain species lives.
During this entire process, the first priority is the birds. We want to cause them the least amount of stress possible, and if their health is threatened, we do what is best for the bird and we will let it go. The bird’s health is more important than getting it banded. This is an incredible experience for an aspiring environmental scientist like myself and it improves our knowledge of the nature around us.
An American Robin, Hanny Qadri